The Electronic Frontier Foundation has sued President Bush, the National Security Agency, and nine other public officials to stop what the civil liberties group characterizes as far-reaching and illegal surveillance on ordinary US citizens.
The complaint, filed Thursday in federal district court in San Francisco, comes in response to a law Congress passed this summer granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the NSA's warrantless surveillance program. The legislation has stalled a previous lawsuit the EFF filed against AT&T, as EFF attorneys challenge the constitutionality of the law.
"Although we are confident that the immunity is unconstitutional and we'll convince the court of that, Congress has succeeded in delaying justice in that case," said Keven Bankston, a senior staff attorney with the EFF. "Therefore, we are going after the root cause of the problem, that being the people who designed and implemented the program."
As in the previous suit, the EFF is targeting AT&T's practice of funneling internet traffic to a secret room in a San Francisco central office operated by the telecommunications company. The evidence in both complaints was based largely on documents provided by former AT&T technician Mark Klein.
"This case challenges an illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet communications surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency...and other Defendants in concert with major telecommunications companies," the complaint alleges.
Using devices installed on AT&T's network, "Defendants have acquired and continue to acquire the content of a significant portion of the phone calls, emails, instant messages, text messages, web communications and other communications, both international and domestic, of practically every American who uses the phone system or the Internet, including Plaintiffs and class members, in an unprecedented suspicion-less general search through the nation’s communications networks."
The surveillance program has been in effect since shortly after the terrorist attacks of 2001, but they only came to light in 2005. One part of the program involves the interception of communications and phone and internet bills of millions of ordinary Americans, the EFF contends.
The five plaintiffs are AT&T customers. They seek an order barring the government from continuing its "unlawful acquisition of the communications and records of Plaintiffs and class members." They also want the government to destroy materials they've already collected under the program and to pay damages.
The complaint also names Vice President Dick Cheney, his chief of staff, David Addington, former Attorney General, and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales - among others. The complaint is here (PDF). ®